St. Vincent's Academy

      While Union County, in her Public Schools, and rudimentary instructions generally, is far behind the age, she can boast one institution, which, in the solidity and broadness of its pecuniary foundation, the elegance and adaptability of its machinery, and the thoroughness and variety in it's course of instruction, put it in the fore front of contemporary educational institutions.  This really great and worthy school is the Female Academy of St. Vincent of Paul, constructed by Sisters of Charity from Nazareth, Ky. 

      Like hundreds of other broad and beneficent enterprises, this institution had it's beginning in poverty, and struggled for a long time against diversity that would have crushed many other people, but seemed to only nerve those who were engaged in it to greater exertions, and more persistent, tenacious resolve. Its early annals are of absorbing interest, and deserve the most thorough treatment at the historian's hands. 

      St. Vincent De Paul was a Catholic Priest of France, whose warm heart prompted him to acts of charity among the orphans of his native land.  His personal endeavors soon took organized shape, and Christian women were banded together by this good man for the purpose of relieving the distress around them, and of educating the young.  This was the origin of the French Sisters of Charity, whose organization in various branches has reached into the United States. 

      It was upon the same general plan that a body of religious women in Kentucky began work, December 1, 1812. They erected houses at Nazareth, Ky., three miles from Bardstown, and immediately began their work of love by extending their hands in every direction where it seemed that they would be able to alleviate suffering and elevate mankind. Their system of propagandism is as follows:  The house of Nazareth, Ky., is the "mother house." It is an institution for secular learning, but also contains the convent at which the Sisters are prepared for their work.  The entire order is under the direction of the Mother Superior, who is elected for a term of three years, and who can only hold the office for two terms in succession. The branch houses are established by missionary colonies from the mother house, the branches being ruled by one who is entitled the Sister Superior. 

      In the early part of this century these good women were quite active in efforts to establish new houses. The Success with which they met, however was not always commensurate with their exertions on account of the primitive condition of society, and the probable diffidence of tender women who had been elegantly nurtured, in meeting and overcoming the difficulties which stared the cause of education in the face in those early days.  One of these colonies, however, was destined to achieve a success that shines with all the brighter luster, when it is known how great obstacles it met and overcame. 

      This colony consisted of Sister Angela Spink, who was the Superior Sister; Sister Frances Gardener and Sister Cicily O'Brien.  Their destination was Union County, Ky., and they arrived in 1820, instead of 1818, as the Union County Atlas states.  Bishop Spaulding of Kentucky, afterward Archbishop of Baltimore, wrote a little book in 1840, entitled Early Catholic Missions of Kentucky, in which we find the following mention of this enterprise: 

      "The Attempt made during the same year, 1820, to establish a school of the Society (Sisters of Charity of Nazareth) in Union County, met with better success.  To this distant place,  Sister Angela Spink, Sister Frances Gardener and Sister Cicily O'Brien were sent by their superiors to open a school on the plantation destined for the church, which the society afterwards purchased. This portion of Kentucky being then but newly settled, and totally unprovided with the most common convenience of life, the good Sisters who labored there, had to endure many privations and hardships for several years. But by dint of patient industry and perseverance, they finally succeeded, with the divine assistance, in establishing there a very respectable boarding school, which still (1840) continues to flourish." 

      The early years of St. Vincent's Academy, as the young school was called, were filled with hardships.  The Sisters bought land and erected a log building upon now covered by the parlors and "office room" of the school. This first purchase of land was quite extensive, and did not probably cost very much, as the land in Union County was then quite cheap.  However, the exact amount of the first purchase in not known.  The Sisters were very poor, and frequently labored in the garden and fields with their own hands, and, as they were not able to hire a farm overseer, the Superior was obliged to frequently direct the work of the men on the farm in person.  In those days the church of the Sacred Heart was a log building standing in the present grounds of the Academy, in front of the parlors. It was torn down and replaced by a brick structure very soon after the establishment of the Academy.  Other land was bought in two quantities, first from the congregation, and next from the "Hosmer farm" and finally, in 1852 or 1853, the Community of Sisters bought the old church and present elegant grounds from the congregation of the Sacred Heart.  The church building was used as a recreation room for a long time, and finally an upper floor was put in, and the second story was used as a wardrobe.  The church was finally demolished in 1879, and its old site has been beautifully adorned with shrubbery, and laid out in a flower garden of exquisite design.

     The Stranger, on approaching St. Vincent's, drives to the front entrance of the grounds, and enters them on a broad avenue of brick, leading to the office.  Immediately before the visitor rises the oldest of the Academy buildings.  It is a substantial brick edifice of three stories, built in 1856, at a cost of $22,000.  The main part is 108x53 feet in extent, and the "L" is a two story building, 33x22 feet.  Two large store rooms and the kitchen occupy the basement under a part of the building.  On the first floor are eight rooms, viz.; Refectory, two class rooms, two parlors, the office, the strangers' dining room, and the bath room.  On the second floor are the community room, the infirmary, the musical department in two rooms, connected by a folding door, a class room, "ladies" room and dormitories and wardrobe.  Stately and roomy verandahs are in the rear of this building, and it fronts upon the delightful garden already described.

     To the east of this building is another brick edifice of three floors erected in 1877-78 at a cost of $20,000.  It is 110x50 feet with an "L" of two stories 60x30 feet in extent.  A very solid, substantial tower to this building, has leading to it's summit a winding stair, which conducts the visitor to an altitude where the most entrancing view may be obtained of the surrounding country.  This building contains, in the ground floor of the "L" the young ladies linen room, the trunk room and the art room.  The chapel occupies the second floor of the "L".  The ground floor of the main part of the building is taken up by the hall and two music rooms. The third floor is a clothes room and a class room.

     It will be seen by anyone familiar with the school buildings that the appointments are ample and in good architectural style for handling a school of this kind.

     The educational apparatus for this establishment is no inconsiderable item.  there are ten pianos, one organ, a library of 2,000 volumes and quite extensive philosophical and chemical apparatus for the girls' school.  There are also some very fine celestial and terrestrial globes, and elegant charts for the study of all branches, especially history.  The curriculum indicates, as it should, that the principal energy expended upon artistic rather than philosophical studies.  The library has, in former years, been used freely by the people of the neighborhood, but of late years a rule has been made which keeps the books on the Academy grounds.  This rule will show it's good effects in a few years, because no library can flourish from which books are indiscriminately loaned.

     The career of St. Vincent may be said to have been one of almost uninterrupted success and advancement.  It ought to be remembered that it has been remote from all communications of rail and river, whereby a foreign patronage could be reached to much better advantage.  It is seven miles from Uniontown, and twenty five miles from Henderson.  Notwithstanding this, the attendance from other states, particularly the South, has always been good.  However, the patronage from the South has fallen off since the war for two reasons. First, many families, who could easily educate their girls, have since the war been in comparatively straitened circumstances; and, second, the Sisters have established several schools in the South right in former patronizing territory.  The war caused the only serious check to the prosperity of St. Vincent.  The patronage of Union County for this school has been constant and important.  She has done her share in supporting it, and this may account in considerable measure for the indifference generally noticed toward other educational enterprises.

     In the administration of the school, the following Sister Superiors have had charge: Sister Angela Spink was the first. Then followed Sister Rose and Sister Margaret Bamberry; then Sister Frances Gardner, who was one of the heroic trio who organized the school.  She afterwards became  Mother Superior of the order, and held that position for four terms of six years each.  When she first came to St. Vincent's she was the music teacher.  Sister Isabella Drury followed Mother Frances, and then Sister Elizabeth Suttle was Superior for a long time.  Sister Scholastica Fenwick held the position from 1863 till 1873, when Sister Helena, now Mother Helena was appointed.  In 1879 she was elected Mother Superior of the order, and Sister  Augustine Callen, the present incumbent, was appointed.  Sister Augustine has been at St. Vincent's since 1866.  She combines good administrative ability with  suave agreeable manners, and shows a marked adaptability for her responsible position.  There are, at the present, nine teachers assisting her, there being twenty six other Sister's altogether at the Academy.

     The branches taught in this institution are reading, writing, English grammar, geography, use of the globes, map drawing, etc., mental calculation, practical and higher arithmetic, algebra, geometry, history, rhetoric, literary and epistolary composition, practical botany, mental and natural philosophy, chemistry, with the use of apparatus, familiar science, physiology, mythology, astronomy, book-keeping, etc., plain sewing, dress making, needle work, embroidery, tapestry and bead work in all their varieties, hair flowers, wax work, drawing, painting, music on piano, guitar and melodeon, vocal music, French and Latin languages; exercises in polite literature are also given, the institution being furnished with a library for the purpose.

     The board is $55 per session, and the tuition in the common branches, with plain sewing, dress making and needle work is $12.  Tuition in the higher branches is $17.  There are extra charges for French, German, Latin, piano, guitar and all ark work, ranging from $5 to $20 per session.

     Every attention is given to the neatness, politeness, health and comfort of the pupils.  The sick are nursed with maternal care and tenderness.  No attempt whatever is made to interfere with the religious opinions of pupils.  They are, however, required to conform to the rules of the school, by attending morning and evening prayer, and Divine services on Sundays and Holidays.  The Academy is open for the reception of pupils at any time of the year.

     Everything at St. Vincent's is done with the regularity of clock work and the precision coming from long experience.  Following are some of the general regulations for the government of the school:

     The year is divided into two sessions, the first commencing on the first Monday in September and ending the first of February; the second commencing on the first of February and ending the last Wednesday in June.

     There is an annual vacation during the months of july and August.

     The pupils are not permitted to visit in the town or vicinity, unless it be the parent's expressed wish; the families whom they are to visit must also be designated; those visits will by no means be more frequent than once a month, and then so as not to cause the omission of any class.

     In order to prevent all improper correspondence, the letters written or received by pupils are subject to inspection; however, their correspondence with parents and guardians is entirely unrestrained.

     Winter Uniform for Sunday -- Each young lady is supplied with one dress of French merino, Mazarine blue, also a cloak of black or dark cloth, and a white straw hat, trimmed with blue ribbon.

     Summer Uniform for Sunday -- One dress of buff colored lawn, white straw hat, trimmed with blue ribbon, and for exhibition day, one white Swiss muslin and blue sash.

     Boarders are required to bring all necessary articles for toilet, and a neatly supplied wardrobe.  It is the wish of the Sisters that they be furnished with dark skirts and black or dark aprons for every day wear.

     Dresses made low neck or short sleeves are not permitted in this school.

     Strangers coming to place pupils in the Academy are required to furnish letters of introduction from ______ _____.

     The pupils have strong incentives to earnest efforts in the system of prizes and awards of distinction.  There were two gold medals given, for superior literary acquirements in 1885, to Anna M. Walker and Lockie White, who received diplomas at the same commencement.  Nine silver medals were also distributed for superior merit.  There were sixteen pupils specially distinguished for amiable deportment.  In the senior class there were five degrees of distinction for conduct, and in the junior class there were three.  The same system of distinction runs through the record of politeness, neatness and order, Christian doctrine, sacred history, and the studies pursued by the school.  A complete record of all this is printed in the catalogue after each commencement, and the fact that such a record is to appear, must be a constant spur to endeavor.

     In the year 1885 there were eighty nine pupils matriculated, and fifty nine of them residents of Union County.  The rest were from Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, and one was from Canada.  The commencement exercises are always well attended by the people of the neighborhood, as well as by the parents of the pupils, and the friends of the school who live at a distance.  The very highest enconiums have, from time to time, been heaped upon these exercises by the press of the State and the Alumni of the institution are verywhere fulfilling the aims of their parents, skillful, and zealous teachers at their alma mater.

     The temporal welfare of the pupils is carefully gaurded and well provided for. The fertile farm, belonging to the Sisters, consisting of 300 acres, is in a fine state of cultivation, and its products are used in the larder of the institution.  The extra hands required to carry on so extensive an establishment, necessited the erection of a farm house, or, as it is called at the Academy, a "men's house". This is a two story brick, 57x50 feet, erected in 1872, at a cost of $7,000. It contains eight rooms, which is only enouph for the force required.  All groceries, provisions, fuel, clothing, etc., that is not raised on the farm, must be transported for long distances over the country roads, and this alone is an item of considerable labor.  The teams are all fed by the preovender raised upon the farm.  The dairy products used by the institution, are largely from the cows upon the farm, and the pork and beef are also fattened here.  This important work is under the supervision of Mr. John Roney, who has been in the employ of the Sister's since 1861, and who has their unbounded confidence.  During the year 1885 there were twelve head of horses and mules; forty head of beef cattle; fourteen milk cows, and fifty hogs, raised upon the farm.  It will readily be seen that the garden on this farm would be out of proportion to the rest of the place.  The potatoes, cabbage, turnips and other garden products for the winter consuption are all raised here, besides the many other vegatables that make a garden so useful in the summer.  Many lines of the fence to this farm have been lately supplied with osage hedges, and a spacious vineyard and orchard are also in good condition, upon the grounds.

     The new railroad runs through this farm, and a depot will be erected upon the grounds within a few hundred yards of the academy buildings. This will give the outside world ingress to St. Vincent's Academy, and the result cannot fail to be beneficial to the school and the world.  As an instance of the thoroughness with which the Sisters have preformed every part of the improvements upon their domain, it is not out of place to mention the laundry.  It is really an elegant structure in appearance, and would scarcely be taken for a laundry by a stranger.  It is a two story frame building, 60x40 feet, erected in 1885, at a cost of $5,000.  On the first floor is a furnace room of brick, the wash house and the ironing room.  The second floor is the drying department.  Upon the farm are all the necessary enclosures and buildings for carrying on so extensive an establishment, even to a well appointed slaughter house and roomy sheds to protect the farming implements, which would certainly make those three who first began labors at this place, stare if they could see them.

     This then is St. Vincent's Academy. It is a magnificent monument to the worthy man whose name it bears.  It is also a standing commentary upon the ability of woman, that will forever shame any who may say that she is inferior in mental caliber and business capacity; for what other institution, with like obstacles and disadvantages to contend with __________________ it in results?  Sixty-Five years ago, perhaps with a shrinking flesh, but high moral courage and feverant religious zeal, the trembling thread of Sisters began this work.  From that early date, till the present time, they and their successors have quietly and noiselessly, but continuously, labored to build up their beloved institution of St. vincent's.  During all that time they have taught the young, nursed the sick, fed and clothed the orphan, and prayed for all mankind.